Know Before You Go
It's hard to capture Madison in words. The energy and personality. The eclectic collection of thinkers, innovators, artists, and blue-collar souls. The green-space nestled between sparkling lakes in the heart of a compact city. A distinct harmony of development and nature.
We can't wait for you to get here and explore Madison. Here are some handy tips to help you discover our destination in comfort.
Madison on the Map
As the capital of Wisconsin, Madison has made its mark on the map in a number of ways. Our estimated population in 2013 was 243,344 (more than 500,000 people live in the Greater Madison area). We are centrally-located between major metropolitan areas including Milwaukee (79 miles east), Chicago (147 miles southeast) and Minneapolis (270 miles northwest).
Madison is famous for its ease of access and active lifestyle.
We’re one of the top five biking cities in the world – and we do it year-round, no matter the weather. Pick up an electric, rentable bike from 45 BCycle stations around town and join the culture. If activity is appealing, but biking isn’t, Madison is an excellent city for a stroll. We rank as the Number 2 Most Walkable City.
Active transportation isn’t for everyone. So Madison has a variety of other transportation options. Catch a taxi, metro bus, Lyft, or Uber for simple navigation.
Weather & Attire
We have four seasons, each with their own unique requirements.
Spring is a breezy time with a freshness to the air. Temperatures are most volatile this time of year, so it’s crucial to bring layers. A light sweater, jacket, or cardigan will keep you covered in the brisk mornings and evenings, while still allowing you to enjoy the warm afternoons.
Summer is a lively time. Lake life takes hold, and the sun provides plenty of warmth, though at times it can be quite humid. Standard summer attire like shorts, t-shirts and sandals are perfect. If spending time outdoors, bring a rain jacket and some bug spray.
Fall is an exciting time. Changing leaves, Badger game days, and Freakfest offer plenty of opportunities to enjoy the crisp air. Temperatures tend to be comfortable, but a bit chilly. We suggest layering so you can adjust as necessary.
Winter doesn’t slow us down. We bike, snowshoe, and celebrate the season no matter the cold. It is a cold season, so we advise you to pack warm coats, hats, and mittens. Madison gets a fair amount of snow, so a pair of waterproof boots are essential to all-day comfort.
- Jan: 11˚-26˚ (avg snowfall 13 in)
- Feb: 15˚-31˚ (avg snowfall 11 in)
- Mar: 25˚-43˚ (avg snowfall 7 in)
- Apr: 36˚-57˚ (avg snowfall 3 in)
- May: 46˚-68˚
- June: 56˚-78˚
- July: 61˚-82˚
- Aug: 59˚-79˚
- Sept: 50˚-72˚
- Oct: 39˚-59˚ (avg snowfall 1 in)
- Nov: 28˚-44˚ (avg snowfall 4 in)
- Dec: 16˚-30˚ (avg snowfall 14 in)
Overview of our Culture
Madison has a couple of fun quirks to be aware of before you come:
- Madison is one of only two major cities in the U.S. to be built on an isthmus.
- A water fountain is often called a bubbler.
- You can get cheese curds at many local restaurants, but locals know they're fresh if they're squeaky.
- Friday nights are synonymous with fish fry.
- Our official city bird is the plastic pink flamingo – an homage to a 1979 prank in which students filled Bascom Hill with more than 1,000 of the birds overnight.
- The City of Madison is named after James Madison – the fourth U.S. president – and many downtown streets are named after those who helped draft and sign the U.S. Constitution.
- Madison has 15,000 acres of lakes and 6,000 acres of parkland. Madison leads the nation with 11.6 parks – 282 in all – per 10,000 residents.
- We’re one of the top 5 cities on earth for biking, and we do it year-round – despite the snow. More than 200 miles of bike paths allow for endless exploration.
- You may know Jump Around is a beloved Madison tradition. But did you know it registers on the Richter Scale?
- If you go to the Dane County Farmers' Market on the Capitol Square, it is customary to walk counter-clockwise around the Square.
Things to do in Madison
Madison Area Links
As you get ready to meet in Madison, we’re pleased to connect you with important people and places in our Capitol city. For additional information, feel free to consult our list of frequently asked questions or email our team.
For all life-threatening medical, fire and police emergencies, call 911.
For non-emergency calls, dial the following numbers:
City of Madison: 608.261.9694 (police); 608.266.4420 (fire)
Dane County: 608.261.9692 (sheriff's office); 608.266.4420
Rules to Remember
It is illegal in Wisconsin for anyone under 21 years old to consume alcohol in any quantity. To purchase alcohol in a bar, restaurant or store, you must be able to produce photographic identification that proves your age. Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) is a serious offense in Wisconsin. The state prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle by a driver that has a .08 percent or above blood alcohol (BAC) concentration.
In Wisconsin, the driver and all passengers must wear seatbelts at all times when traveling in a car. Any child too small to be protected by a seatbelt must be secured in a child safety seat.
Wisconsin law prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, theaters, auditoriums, museums and most other public buildings.
Keep your eyes on the road, as Wisconsin has a texting ban for all drivers. We also recommend that you play it safe and use a hands-free controller if you must use a phone while on the road.
For additional information on state-by-state legislation (such as concealed carry) contact the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
Currency & Banking
Bank-card, bank-cash and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are located throughout the city. Members of participating banking networks and credit card companies can obtain U.S. currency by using an ATM card or credit card and a Personal Identification Number (PIN). If you need to exchange foreign currency, contact Travelex Currency Services at 1 S. Pinckney Street in Madison, 608.259.8462.